Sunderland’s heaviest defeat for three seasons going down by 5–1 to Oxford United at the Manor Road ground on Saturday was strictly a tale of two halves.
But the sizeable crowd of supporters who had been cheered by brave effort and a deserved 1–0 lead in the first half could not have guessed what was in store in the second. That story belonged to the dressing room, where Manager Alan Brown found himself with four casualties, all victims of a ruthless softening-up campaign which had been waged without serious intervention by the referee.
Montgomery, Malone, Horswill and Hughes limped out for the second half knowing that only one could be relieved by the substitute if the going became too tough for them. The decision was delayed until the 68th minute, when it became apparent that Hughes was in the greatest difficulty, but by then Oxford were 2–1 up and the weight of pressure which they were able to exert upon a handicapped defence always looked like producing further goals.
No doubt Middlesbrough could provide supporting comment from their experience when they were beaten 4–0 on the same ground a few weeks ago. Beyond the fact that he was obviously furious over the design of Oxford’s effort, Mr Brown picked his few words carefully. “We don’t have to let this kind of result worry us,” he said. “We had four players all handicapped by thigh injuries inflicted by the same Oxford player. We were deliberately softened-up in the first half and it showed in the second.”
For the uninformed onlooker there was an astonishing contrast. In the face of severe often wild, physical challenge in the first half, Sunderland, playing up the slope, applied themselves well to edge on top through a well-taken Kerr goal. Another tapped home by Lathan and promptly disallowed, though the justification was not apparent, would have promoted the score-line nearer to Sunderland’s entitlement on the run of play.
The punishment they had taken in reaching the position, however, was beginning to take its toll and the pace of defensive coverage was weakening when the half ended.
Oxford read the signs well and there was quick reward for them when they accepted one of three clear-cut chances in the early minutes of the second half. This was the inspiration they needed and as Sunderland struggled to put their game together again, Oxford stepped up their running power and challenge for the big take-over,
They were ahead in 65 minutes and Curran completed the rout with a “hat-trick” in the last 11 minutes to make it a very sad ending indeed for bruised and battered Sunderland.
Good work by Porterfield and Tueart created chances for Watson as Sunderland slipped into attacking gear right from the start in typical fashion.
First Porterfield hit a crossfield pass from left to right which had Watson cutting in from the angle of the penalty area to send a powerful shot just outside the far post.
Before Tueart had the centre forward moving on goal for a couple of shots which were beaten down in the 12th minute, Hughes, Montgomery and Malone had all been injured and were operating under difficulties.
Horswill’s injury followed soon afterwards in throwing back a desperate Oxford challenge spearheaded by Cassidy.
Sunderland’s goal in the 23rd minute sprang from intelligent springing of the offside trap in which Oxford specialise.
When Porterfield collected the clearance of a Malone free-kick, Oxford defenders began their charge upfield, but they were unable to intervene when Kerr, starting a long run from midfield, raced through to pick up Porterfield’s lob and slam his shot wide of Burton.
Curran twice went close for Oxford before the break and Skeen wasted a good chance by shooting wide.
Oxford drew level with a well-designed goal in the 47th minute. Aylott crossed from the left and when Skeen drive the ball hard and low from the right, Cassidy turned it home from close range.
Curran and Cassidy missed easy chances before Montgomery took another helping of punishment when Cassidy followed through in a tackle to send the goalkeeper sprawling. It seemed that the referee had to choose this moment to being out his book but instead he went no further than a lecture.
Shortly afterwards, Oxford withdrew Cassidy and brought on Clark D., whose first touch of the ball brought a fine save from Montgomery.
Tueart just failed to accept a Kerr-made chance of putting Sunderland ahead again before United moved from a free-kick on the right, with Sloan putting them ahead with a diving header from Skeen’s centre.
Sunderland were near to an equaliser when Porterfield was fouled by Shuker and from Kerr’s kick Watson directed a powerful header just under the bar, only to see Burton bring off a fine save.
That was to be the last game-saving chance for Sunderland who now had Hamilton in attack in place of Hughes.
In the 79th minute a long ball by Lucas found Curran spare on the left and he cut in to leave Montgomery helpless. Curran accepted his second chance gratefully when Montgomery planed a cross from the right straight to his feet in 81 minutes and eight minutes later he completed his “hat trick” with a snap shot through a crowded goal-mouth.
Kerr was Sunderland’s most consistent performer, with Watson maintaining a strong challenge at the front and always ready to help out in defence when problems arose later in the game.
Horswill and Ashurst showed great determination in a particularly tough game, with Porterfield and Coleman both pushing themselves hard to command a swing of play.
The best of Tueart and Lathan came in the first half, but they were willing enough workers during the losing battle in the second.
The heaviest marks of a gruelling game fell upon Montgomery, Malone, Horswill and Hughes and they deserved every credit for battling on under physical handicap.
OXFORD UNITED: Burton, Luca, Shuker, Roberts, Clark C., Evanson, Sloan, Skeen, Curran, Cassidy, (Clarke D.), and Aylott.
SUNDERLAND: Montgomery, Malone, Coleman, Horswill, Ashurst, Porterfield, Hughes, Ashurst, Porterfield, Hughes, (Hamilton), Kerr, Watson, Lathan and Tueart.
Referee: Mr J Wrennal of Chorley.
Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on October 9 1972.